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OSHA Regulations: Admissible Evidence?

By Michael A. Logan and Amelia Coates

Noncompliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations may not singularly establish a negligence per se claim, but such evidence may be relevant to proximate cause in a simple negligence action. In 2015, the Corpus Christi-Edinburg Court of Appeals in 4Front Engineered Solutions, Inc. v. Rosales considered the trial court’s decision to admit evidence of an OSHA regulation concerning a forklift and a letter issued by OSHA interpreting the same. This case involved a negligence claim by a worker against a warehouse owner after a forklift tipped over and injured the plaintiff.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence was inadmissible because it did not “establish a standard of care and does not apply outside the employee/employer context.” The plaintiff contended that the evidence was admissible to show the safety procedures the driver of the forklift should have known, as well as the danger of the forklift when driven by an untrained worker. The appellate court acknowledged that these regulations could not be used as evidence of negligence per se, but explained that Texas courts have considered OSHA regulations in the standard of care context for a pure negligence claim.

The court distinguished the cases cited by the defendant holding that OSHA regulations were not relevant to the question of duty in a negligence action: “Hill and Hall are distinguishable because the courts in those memorandum opinions found no abuse of discretion in the exclusion of evidence. That . . . does not mean that the admission of such evidence is necessarily an abuse of discretion here.” Ultimately, the court held that the regulations were admissible as to the standard of care because the OSHA standards represent the industry’s view on safe practices, and apply equally to employees and customers.

Admitting evidence of OSHA regulations to help establish proximate cause or duty does not expand the common law. Instead, this type of evidence gives context to what the standard of care is by considering the industry’s regulations. Texas is hardly alone in allowing these regulations as evidence; other jurisdictions, including the Second, Fourth, and Eighth circuit courts, have drawn similar conclusions. Employers and other potential defendants should be aware that OSHA regulations might be used as evidence in negligence causes of action to establish the standard of care.

Be sure to read our next blog post where we continue the discussion on OSHA-related evidence and admissibility in civil cases!